There is a breast alternative

Anna Maxted

WE all go a little mad preparing for our first baby. My quest for maternal perfection persisted beyond the birth – my son barely met his father before being introduced to my nipple.

I threw away the free formula sample I’d been sent. Ten days in, the community nurse visited.

“You’re not making enough milk,” she said. “He’s lost 10% of his body weight.”

I cannot express the shock and self- loathing I felt, the sense of failure. I couldn’t fulfil the most basic duty – providing my child with nourishment.

It’s a shame, then, that Superfood For Babies, this week’s sobering report from Save the Children – which recommends that formula milk packaging should carry huge, cigarette-style health warnings – is being publicised in Britain. Its message: 95 babies could be saved every hour worldwide if new mothers breastfed immediately after birth.

This information is essential in Third World countries, where babies die because mothers are pressurised into feeding them harmful alternatives, like coffee, ash, and sugared water if they can’t produce enough milk themselves.

But it is inappropriate in the UK, where 81% of new mothers try to breastfeed – up from 76% in 2005. Neither the health of those who opt for formula nor their babies will be improved by public shaming.

Clare Byam-Cook, author of Top Tips for Breastfeeding, says: “Lots of mothers don’t produce enough milk. It’s not a modern problem. Just because breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it works perfectly for everyone.”

Yet there is little public acknowledgement of this fact. I was so susceptible to expert opinion about the evils of formula that even though my child was skinny, starving, screaming at my empty breast, I refused to feed him a bottle. One morning at 2am I called the hospital for advice and the midwife shouted to give him formula.

Kathryn Rawe, policy adviser at Save The Children and one of the authors of Superfood for Babies, says the report “recognises that women who can’t produce milk do need formula”.

“But in developing countries, breastfeeding is a life or death matter.”

The Superfood for Babies report is of global importance. It reminds us how lucky we are in Britain to know that breast is preferable, and to have a choice about how we feed our babies. But let’s also remember that, sometimes, mother knows best. – The Daily Telegraph

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